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Nasa is expected to call on companies, citizen scientists, pilots and air traffic managers to track UFO sightings as part of its efforts to gather more robust data on unidentified flying objects.
The US space agency on Thursday unveiled the results of a nearly year-long study of unclassified UFO sightings, now more commonly known as unexplained anomalous phenomena (UAP).
The study, carried out by an independent team of 16 scientists, data and artificial intelligence experts, and aviation safety specialists, was not looking for evidence of extraterrestrial visits. Instead it was tasked with designing a road map for Nasa to lead a more scientific approach to gathering and analysing data about these phenomena.
Bill Nelson, Nasa’s administrator, said the study marked “the first time Nasa has taken concrete action to seriously look into UAP”. The initiative should help to end decades of suspicion that the US government has been hiding information about UFOs, with Nelson pledging that any findings on UAP would be made public.
“We don’t know what these UAP are but we will try to find out. Whatever we find we will tell you,” he added.
Nasa’s decision to make UAP research a priority comes as the government grows increasingly concerned by the rising number of sightings of unexplained objects in the air, space and ocean. While they may be described as UAP, there are concerns they could pose a threat from new technologies at a time of tensions with China and Russia.
“The observed increase in the reporting rate is partially due to a better understanding of the possible threats that UAP may represent — either as flight safety hazards or as potential adversary collection platforms,” the report said.
The report’s recommendations included crowdsourcing information on events filmed by the public, perhaps through a mobile phone app, as well as using earth and space observation networks operated by commercial operators. The companies offered “a potent mix of Earth observing sensors that have the collective potential to directly resolve UAP events”, it found.
The aviation industry’s safety reporting system could also be leveraged to provide a critical database, the team said. Finally, in addition to using its own assets to identify UAP activity, Nasa could help to develop “new concepts and ideas for air traffic management systems . . . to assist in the effort to better understand [UAP]”.
“There is a lot more to learn,” Nelson added. “There is so much concern that there is something locked up and the American government is not being open. [But] we will be open about this.”
The findings come just days after Nasa hinted that the James Webb space telescope launched at the end of 2021 had found chemical signs that could indicate life on an exoplanet about 120 light years from Earth.
Last year the US defence department set up the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) to co-ordinate government efforts to investigate UAP in air, space, sea and land. Nasa has appointed a director of UAP research to co-ordinate its own UAP activities and work with AARO.
According to a report for the Office of National Intelligence last year, 247 UAPs were reported since 2021, a huge increase from 263 for 2004-2021. The majority of new sightings have come from US Navy and US Air Force personnel while on duty, the report found. In 2004, naval pilots spotted a white oblong object emerge from the ocean and speed off across the surface in what has become known as the Tic Tac encounter.
The majority of the sightings were subsequently attributed to objects such as military drones and research balloons or conventional explanations, such as commercial aircraft observed through shaky sensors. Yet enough incidents remained unexplained to merit further study.
Nelson said he believed in extraterrestrial life. “If you ask me do I believe there is life in a universe that is so vast it is hard to comprehend how big it is, my personal answer is yes,” he said.